Since the start of the pandemic, some of my executive coaching clients have interviewed, landed new jobs, and onboarded—all without ever meeting their hiring manager in person. Learnings from these remote events can inform how to maximize another corporate staple—the performance review—which in many companies has gone virtual as well, at least for the time being.
While you might expect that receiving feedback is an inherent part of the job, COVID-19 is shaking up many traditional processes. A recent survey revealed that 67% of the employees surveyed hadn’t received any constructive feedback from their manager in the last 30 days, and nearly 50% said they had fewer professional development opportunities while working from home.
You may wish or expect your manager to recommend a career development path, but today’s realities require taking a more active approach to managing your career. Since constructive feedback is critical to your growth and can be a stepping stone to professional development, the cost of not taking action is high. To put yourself in control of your career, you’ll need to learn how to “manage up.” Leveraging your virtual performance review is a good place to start.
A key point that I share with those whom I coach is that most of the basics about performance reviews still apply, even when they’re conducted through a digital platform rather than in the same room. It’s also critical that you lay some groundwork in communicating with your manager before the actual review. Here are some strategies you can use to set yourself up for success:
Treat your virtual performance review as more than a one-off event.
Instead of thinking about your review as only an annual or semiannual event, use it as a springboard to start building and strengthening a relationship with your manager year-round. Without the day-to-day interactions that come with being in the same office, you have to be more intentional about setting the stage for your review, especially if your boss doesn’t do it. As executive coach Alisa Cohn explains, “A performance review is a conversation, not a test.” The rest of the tactics below will give you some specific tools to do this.
Start with regular conversations.
In some cases, working remotely can rob us of the opportunity to get to know our career influencers personally, because we don’t have the opportunity to sit across from them at lunch and have impromptu conversations. In the weeks and months before your virtual review date, set up regular virtual meetings with your manager and request that they have their video turned on. Start these meetings with small talk. Ask about their family and how they’re doing working from home. Use these sessions to update your manager on what you’ve been working on and ask for regular feedback. Creating this type of relationship ahead of time will help your manager know you better and understand your needs and priorities, greasing the wheels for your actual review.
Clarify your goals up front.
Months before the date of your virtual review, set up an additional “preview” Zoom meeting with your manager to talk about your goals for the year, as well as the steps you plan to take to achieve them. If you need support or resources to achieve these goals—particularly acknowledging that you may lack certain resources while working from home—now is the time to ask for them and explain why these are valuable to your team and the organization as a whole.
Ask for a career-development conversation in advance.
Also before your virtual review, ask your manager for a conversation about your career. If you’re not sure what you want to do next, then before having this conversation you should seek advice from a trusted coworker, a colleague a rung or two ahead of you, or from someone in a function that you want to learn more about. Once you’ve gained clarity, talk to your manager about the skills you need to get to the next step and what projects you can get involved in to develop them. By doing this in plenty of time before your review, you’ll be able to show concrete examples of your efforts toward career development.
When you’re on a video call with your manager, even if it’s your performance review, you may be tempted to go casual—especially if you’re on friendly terms with your boss. Don’t do it! Dress professionally (from the waist down, as well as the waist up). Make sure your space is quiet, well lit, and free from interruptions and system alerts. Look directly into the camera and smile, using open body language to communicate openness and positivity.
Ask for a copy of your review before your virtual meeting.
Performance reviews create heightened emotion for both employee and manager. Ask your boss to let you read your review before your meeting to allow you to process some of your emotions ahead of time. This advanced reading will also allow you to prepare your questions about the feedback calmly and thoughtfully.
Remember, a performance review is a dialogue not only about your past and current performance but about your longer-term goals as well. It’s also an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your manager. Talking to your boss about your goals requires courage and internal clarity. If you’re willing to make your career growth a priority, your manager likely will too.